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Editor’s note: Today’s editorial was written by Dr. Tonya Drake, Washington chancellor of Western Governors University. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.

Every person in Washington state should have the opportunity to pursue a higher education. Too often insurmountable financial barriers prevent low-income and working-class families from accessing college. An individual’s financial situation should not prohibit them from pursuing their dreams.

We must invest in Washington’s future in order to take advantage of the opportunities ahead. According to the Washington Roundtable, the state will have more than 740,000 job openings by 2021, and not enough qualified workers to fill career oriented jobs. While our state is making progress, Washington’s economic and social vitality depends on a better way.

Expanding access to education and training after high school boosts career opportunities and supports economic growth. The Washington College Promise grant has the potential to drive positive change in our state.

I support Gov. Inslee’s plan to transform the State Need Grant into Washington’s College Promise grant, which would provide a guaranteed source of financial aid to more than 93,000 eligible students. With the changes proposed to restructure the Washington College Promise, the state will fully fund the program and prevent future budget cuts.

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Due to chronic underfunding of the existing program, about one out of four eligible students in our state who applied for the State Need Grant in the last decade never received funding. It is critical that we act now to close the income-based opportunity gap for students and prepare them to be successful in a growing economy.

Policymakers, employers, educators and community organizations must take a collective and collaborative approach to opening more pathways to success for Washington students. At WGU Washington we are committed to expanding access to affordable higher education for Washington residents through online, competency-based programs that address key workforce needs.

WGU Washington is an active member of the College Promise Coalition, an unprecedented partnership bringing together dozens of organizations and individuals, including Washington’s public and private four- and two-year colleges and universities, students, families, faculty, alumni, education advocates, and leaders in business and labor. Together we work collaboratively across sectors to implement strategies that support students who face barriers to entering and completing postsecondary education.

I encourage you to stand with me and take action by contacting your legislator today to express your support for the momentous Washington College Promise grant proposal (HB 1340 and SB 593) that has the potential to expand opportunities for education and training beyond high school, so everyone in our state can succeed regardless of their circumstances.

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Dean Takko is a resident of Longview and is the Democratic state senator for the 19th Legislative District.

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